Church clusters near Seoul worry authoritiesAll houses of worship in Goyang, Gyeonggi, were forced to cancel all activities except for normal services for 14 days from Sunday after at least 42 coronavirus cases were traced to two churches.
Authorities in Goyang, just north of Seoul, said the so-called congregation restriction order effectively prohibits all worshipers from holding face-to-face religious activities apart from regular services, including prayer group meetings, bible meetings and summer camps.
Violators will be fined 3 million won ($2,500).
The warning came as the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said Sunday morning that 36 new Covid-19 patients were detected nationwide Saturday, and 30 on Friday.
Among Saturday’s cases, 30 were local infections, almost all from the greater Seoul area: 14 in Gyeonggi, 11 in Seoul and one in Incheon. Two other cases emerged in Gwangju and one each in North Chungcheong and South Chungcheong.
Of the six imported cases, four were from India, and one each from the Philippines and Mexico.
One Covid-19 patient died Saturday, bringing the country’s total death toll to 305. Thirteen people recovered, raising total recoveries to 13,642.
Korea has counted 14,598 coronavirus cases as of Saturday at midnight.
One church cluster in Goyang extended to 24 related cases as of Sunday at 9 a.m. since an elder worshipper was first diagnosed with the coronavirus last Wednesday. Health officials believe the adherent spread the disease within the church community, including to a day care center teacher in her 20s, who transmitted the virus to the center’s director and a 3-year-old child who attends the day care center.
The 3-year-old transmitted the virus to her five relatives, who subsequently spread the disease in their respective social circles.
Another church cluster in Goyang has reached 18 coronavirus cases so far ever since a pastor tested positive for the disease last Wednesday as well. He spread the virus to his wife and three kids, some of his church members and also his colleagues from a side business he runs in Gangnam District, southern Seoul.
In response to the Goyang clusters, Kwon Jun-wook, deputy director of the KCDC, said he would have no choice but to consider tightening hygiene rules on local churches if similar cases emerge in other areas.
KCDC Director Jung Eun-kyeong likewise said last Friday that churches might have to go back to the toughened measures of last month, when all churches were strictly banned from holding any events or small group meetings on the sidelines of regular services for two weeks.
Health officials Sunday also warned of imported cases from local ports, saying that two sailors from a Philippine-flagged ship that departed Manila on July 29 and docked at Pyeongtaek Port in Gyeonggi last Thursday tested positive for the coronavirus Saturday. The rest of the crew, 16 sailors, tested negative, officials said.
It’s the first time a coronavirus infection has been detected at a port other than Incheon or Busan.
A day before the cases were found, Vice Minister of Health and Welfare Kim Gang-lip said last Friday in a briefing that Korea will officially lift travel restrictions on arrivals from China’s Hubei Province starting Monday since coronavirus cases there have eased and Beijing has also relaxed entry measures for Korean nationals.
Hubei Province was the early epicenter of the pandemic.
“We took into consideration that China’s Covid-19 situation has improved, new cases have not been reported from Hubei Province recently and China since Aug. 5 began resuming visa issuances to Korean nationals,” Kim said.
Last Wednesday, China resumed issuing visas to Korean students, long-term employees and people with valid residence certificates on the condition they provide negative test results for Covid-19.
BY LEE SUNG-EUN, SHIM SEOK-YONG [email@example.com]